You may have noticed a familiar pair of legs poking into Google’s logo today, to commemorate the 40th year of Sesame Street. Almost universally, the show was met with immediate critical and kid-ical acclaim when it debuted in 1969. Everybody loved the show… almost. There were a few groups who were offended by some of the choices made by the show.
Despite research showing the hugely positive effect the show had on early childhood learning, Sesame Street was banned from the airwaves in the state of Mississippi in 1970. The show had been cast with a conscious effort to have a minority of white actors and according to some legislators, “Mississippi was not yet ready” for an integrated cast. Sad, but true. Fortunately, feeling the pressure from national news coverage, the state reversed it’s decision.
More fuddy-duddies criticized the show for having strong single women characters (how is that possible?!?!) yet on the other hand the National Organization for Women complained the show was too male-oriented, resulting in the character Susan changing from housewife to nurse. More complaints came in about the lack of Hispanic actors in the early years. Still, the show was adored by it’s viewers; kids and, for the first time in children’s television, the show was interesting for parents, too.
The original advice from child psychologists was that puppets should not interact with humans. It would negatively affect children, they figured. However, after testing the initial episodes they found the show dragging during the “street scenes” which pulled everything together. To solve this, Jim Henson created Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to work with the actors on the street. Actors with puppets. Somehow, I still turned out okay.
Originally, Big Bird was designed to be controlled by Jim Henson himself, but after trying it on, the designer didn’t think Jim walked like a bird should. The job was handed to Carroll (Ed) Spinney and it became his life’s work, as well as playing Oscar the Grouch.
Like pretty much every person under the age of 40, Sesame Street was a pretty big deal in my life. To this day I can’t count to 12 without dancing.